Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Elves Christmas Garland - Christmas Tutorial no 11

I like working with felt, it is so forgiving and it is brilliant at making winter outfits for elves. Now as you all know, no self respecting helper of Santa Claus would dream of turning up for work without his mittens, socks and matching scarf... so in case of any elf being caught short you will now have a spare wardrobe hanging over your fireplace.
You will need:
Felt - I used 8 squares of 9" x 9"
Embroidery thread or fabric paint
Scissors and Pinking Shears
Aqueous Marker Pen
Ribbon and/or hairy twine
Wool scraps
Knitting needles
Crochet hook
Sewing machine
Greaseproof paper
Access to baby clothes...
First you need to create a template for your mitten and sock... this is where your access to baby clothes is really helpful as you can trace around a baby's sock and mitten.  Well OK, I suppose that you could also Google for a template but it really won't be quite as much fun!
Now the great thing with felt is that it has not warp or weft which means that you can place your template wheresoever you wish as there is no right way for the fabric to sit, however you cut it will always be right.  
You will need to cut out 14 of each shape - I decided on green mittens and red socks.

Mark the letters out on each mitten or sock.*  I used a simple chain stitch in white embroidery silk and for the snowflakes, a star stitch.  You could use a stencil and fabric paints if you do not feel confident in your hand sewing skills and you can further decorate the socks and mittens with buttons, sequins and you might even want to consider using your glue gun and the table decoration snowflakes.
Pin the mittens and socks together and sew them together with a .5cm seam leaving the tops open.  Using your pinking shears, trim around the socks and mittens and across the top to give your garland a decorative edge.
Now you need to decide if you are going to hang your garland from ribbon - I chose a cheery tartan ribbon - or if you want a more rustic look, use hairy or garden twine.  Cut a piece of ribbon or twine that is long enough to loop over the ribbon or twine, now sew the across the top of the sock or mitten.
To make a really simple set of scarves, I used leftover scraps of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, a pair of size 3.75 needles.  Casting on eight stitches, I worked a simple rib pattern, knit 1, purl 1 to the end of each row, to get the stripes, I worked four rows then changed colour and worked a further four rows and then back to the first colour.  Continue to work until your mini-scarf measures 12" and then cast off the eight stitches.

Using short pieces of wool approximately 3" in length, put your crochet hook into the cast off stitches, loop the yarn around the hook and pull it through, leaving two tails behind, pull the the tails through your loop and now you have your fringe.  When all the cast off stitches have been fringed, trim the fringe so that the fringing is of equal length.

Finally slip the mittens and gloves onto the ribbon or twine, remember to put it in the right order by starting from the back and work through to the front, I mean only an idiot would get that wrong (Ros looks embarrassed).  You can now tie the scarves on at the beginning middle and end of your garland and find somewhere to hang it up for Christmas.
In case you are interested, this is the fireplace in my bathroom!
*If you are feeling really adventurous you could cut out 12 mittens and 12 socks to make an Advent calendar, replacing the letters with numbers and leaving the socks and mittens open so that you can hide delightful treats inside.
Now if this has whetted you appetite for all things crafty, get yourself over to the lovely Wendy's Handmade Monday which is now in its 40th week - wherever does the time go?

And finally if you would like me to make anything that you have seen on the blog, like the rag wreaths, scarves or garlands, please do not hesitate to drop me an e-mail.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Ragtime Christmas Wreath - Christmas Tutorial no.10

Right, from the get go I am going to tell you this is not what I had planned for this weekend but I went on a trip to Hobbycraft looking for a flower loom but could not find one.  However, I did find a polystyrene wreath which I had been after for a while because I wanted to make a slightly different sort of rag wreath this year.  I think that this might be a great hit with the children over half term if you do the fabric cutting in advance and it looks equally good on your front door or hung inside to match your colour scheme.  The other great thing is that this wreath can be used for a number of years and by carefully storing the fabrics you can recycle it throughout the year - which means you will be green without an ounce of greenery!
(Ros confesses - I never have a colour scheme for Christmas, in fact I totally suspend taste so that everything in my Christmas decs box can be used... be honest how else would I find a spot for my salt dough Christmas sheep?)

You will need the following:
A polystyrene wreath or a florist's Oasis wreath
Selection of Christmas fat quarters or other fabric scraps - remember you will be cutting them in squares of 2.5" x 2.5" for smaller wreaths and 3" x 3" for larger wreaths
A chopstick or screwdriver (preferably Phillips)
A metre of Christmas Ribbon
Glue gun (optional)
Iron and Ironing board (go on you know we are using fabric)
Rotary cutter with a pinking wheel or a pair of pinking shears
Cutting mat and ruler
Select your fabrics and iron them - I know it may seem silly to do this when you are going to chop the fabric up but it will give your wreath a much finer and professional finish.
Use your rotary cutter cut out 2.5" or 3" strips, then lay the strips on top of each other and cut across them to make square which are  2.5" x 2.5" for smaller wreaths and 3" x 3" for larger wreaths.  My wreath is about 13.5" in diameter and I used three strips of nine different fat quarters (usually 22" long) cut in 2.5 x 2.5" square and I was struggling at the end to find a space for all the squares.
Now the next bit is down to your artistic eye and design bent... you may want to stripe it, mix it, make it in all one colour.
Take first square and place the piece of fabric with the right side against the point of your chopstick or Phillips and push it into your wreath - yes, it really is that easy.  
Now if you are worried that the fabric will not stay put, dip the tip into a little blob of warm glue... if you use another glue make sure it does not contain a solvent because it will dissolve your wreath!
Continue to build up the squares until none of the wreath shows.  
Take your ribbon and cut out at least a metre.
Double it up, place the ribbon behind the wreath, bring the loop under the wreath and pull the ends of the ribbon through the loop.
Now go and hang it on your front door... and wait for the carol singers to arrive on the doorstep... to admire it!

And now it is time to go over to Wendy's Handmade Monday and see what everyone else has been up to during the past week.  Wendy is coming up to her 100,000th hit... let's see if we can push her through to the other side!

If you want the other traditional strip rag wreath, take a look here.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Salt Dough Tags and Decorations - Christmas Tutorial no 9

 love to make things which can be re-used and these salt dough decorations are going to start their lives as labels on your Christmas gifts but they will end up hanging on your tree each year.  I made my original salt dough decorations over 15 years ago and they still come out every year!
You will need the following:

8 oz (200g) Plain Flour
4oz (100g) Table Salt
2 tspns of vegetable oil
4 - 6 fl ozs of water
Christmas cutters
Garlic Press
Rolling Pin
Pastry brush
Baking tray
Ribbon, wool or Embroidery Thread
Luggage Labels
A potato
Vegetable knife
Poster Paints and Paint Brushes

Mix the flour and salt together, make a well in the middle and stir in 4fl oz of water and the two tspns of vegetable oil.  
Knead the mixture together, add more water if it is too dry. You will need to knead it for a good 10 minutes... any less than this and mixture will split and crack.
Flour your surface and roll the mixture out just as you would roll out pastry to about 1/4" thickness and cut out your shapes with your Christmas cutters.
At the top of each shape, use your straw to make the hole.

If you are making a Christmas stocking, pop some salt dough into the garlic press.  Use your pastry brush to brush some water onto the stocking and apply the dough hair from the press onto the stocking.
You might also like to make Christmas sheep - make an oval shape for the body and roll out four sausages for the legs and use a little water to adhere the legs to the body, don't worry if it looks a bit rough because it will be covered up.  
Now push more dough through the press, brush the body all over with water and then apply your sheep hair all over the body.  
Cut out a small triangle and round the corners, this will be the face, wet the back and apply to the body, use the peppercorns for eyes, add some seasonal holly as a hair decoration and two ears.
I use an old, knackered baking sheet for my salt dough projects... you know that sort that you cannot clean and you would be ashamed if your friends or mother-in-law could see!  Oil it up and place all of your shapes onto the tray, you need to bake these for at least 2 - 4 hours at Gas Mark 1.5, 290' F or 145' C, it will depend on how thick and big your items are.  Check every half hour and if you see air bubble appearing, prick them with a pin and press down.  You will be able to tell when it is cooked because when your turn it over the back will be totally dry.  The salt dough will not go brown but will remain an insipid pastry colour... so no help there then! 

Let the items dry on a wire tray.

Whilst this is happening, we are going back to primary school and making potato stamps.  Cut your potato in half and either use your cutters or your innate artistic skill to design a shape... stars, holly leaves, polka dots...  cut around the shape so that it stands proud.  Put a little of the poster paint onto a saucer, dip the potato into the paint and stamp onto the luggage tag and leave to dry.  You can use felt tips to add to the patterns or even put some glitter on for that festive frenzy feeling.
Now the fun starts, paint your salt dough items... you can even paint the name of the recipient on there... you know that if you put Gran or Grandad on them, they will come out every year.

Allow the paints 24 hours to dry and then cover with a clear varnish which means your salt dough will last for ages.
Slip the ribbon into the hole and tie it to your tag.

Now you have a personally designed tag and decoration for your friends.

And I nearly forgot, to see what everyone else has been up to this week, go over to Wendy's Handmade Monday and read her thought provoking post.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Ally Pally and I get to meet Ms Epstein

On Saturday my sister and I went for our annual pilgrimage to Ally Pally to check out the trends at the Knitting and Stitching show, despite the roadworks delaying us for an hour we were soon parked, onto a courtesy bus and standing outside the entrance. 
Now my sister... that is my older sister, the one with the bus pass and who tried to pass me off as an OAP concesssion when we went to the pictures, had managed to buy two sets of tickets... so I am really proud of her generosity, she found two people in the ticket queue and gave the the tickets for free, and even better for it was one of the ladies' birthday!  Pay it forward people.

We are methodical in our approach, no aisle is left undiscovered and every stand gets the once over from our eagle eyes.  First on the list was a pinking wheel for her rotary cutter, I think she might be after the Leigh-on-sea rag wreath market from me!

And then it was looking at the fabrics:
Now this is how I dream it will be...

But in reality, it is a bit of a rugby scrum, albeit a polite one, and while I am at it, is it really necessary to bring your buggy to this event... buggy-sized kiddies do not enjoy it, nor does this adult who objects to having her ankles gouged by careless yummy mummies.

I spoke to a lovely lady who was trying out an amazing sub £4k free style machine and we swapped tips, apparently when I can sign my name and it can be read I have mastered freestyle and I told her that if she discovered her wheels were blunt, fold up some baking foil and putting it on your cutting mat, slice through it about 20 times, it also works on scissors!

Then we went round the corner and I saw Nicky Epstein the GMC stand, I took out my camera and said to my sister that I was going to to say hello... the chauffeur legged it and hid on the next stand.  Then I was really brave and asked if I could take her picture:
And she was utterly charming, it was akin to Enid Blyton turning up on your birthday when you were 10 years old.  She gave me a free pattern from my fave book, a book mark and badge which I will give away to anyone who leaves a comment on here before I next post at the weekend - names to be drawn from the sock I am knitting.  She also gave me a hug and a kiss but I am keeping those!  I thanked her for her posts on Ravelry and her e-mails and even though she pretended to know me, I know that I am just one of thousands of her fans but she still made me feel very special.

One of the exhibits that was truly fascinating was the travelling exhibition from MODA, the Museum of Domestic Arts who were showing pieces of artwork from the Silver Studios which became dress fabrics.  Little is known of the designers who were truly gifted but the vibrancy of the watercolours and the adverts for silk tea dresses from the 30s were inspirational.  They explained that elements of these paintings are used by fabric designers today but I think it would be wonderful to see these fabrics back in production.

Sadly, I did check before I left the house that morning if I had won the £101m in the lottery so contented myself with a beautiful skein of silk yarn instead of buying everything.  However as we left, the pensioner sister presented me with a Clover applique iron which I had been eyeing up, she managed to buy it while I was chatting to the free hand embroidery lady and I did not notice.  Have I mentioned how young my sister is looking?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Frosty the Snowman - Christmas Tutorial no 8

I thought we might start making some decorations for the tree this week, which could also double up as brooches, bracelets and even earrings.  Now we haven't done any felting for ages, so I thought we could do a little bit more, but with option of a little bit of cheating if you are time-poor.
You will need the following kit:
White wool tops - or preformed small and medium sized felt balls
Black wool tops
Cocktail sticks
Left over sock wool
Black cotton
White cotton
Selection of embroidery threads
A marble
Needle - sewing and mattress
Bubble wrap
Soap and warm water
Bamboo mat
Glue gun
Firstly, you have to make two felt balls and to remind you how to make them take a look at the felt beads tutorial or you can buy ready prepared felt balls at most good craft stores.  You will need to create one ball which is smaller than the other to create the head and a larger one to become the body
Next we are going to create the felt hat for your snowman.  Lay out strands of your tops as follows - horizontal, vertical, horizontal, vertical -on top of the bubble wrap, which lies on top of your bamboo mat which has an old towel beneath it.  
Using your soap and warm water spray on top of the tops, now fold over the bubble wrap and spray again on top of the bubble wrap and start to agitate on top of the tops.  
After a minute, open it up and rotate it by 90' and agitate again (by this I mean rub it in small circles with your fingertips...) this is how you felt your tops together to make your felt hat.  
Now roll up your felt piece in the bubble wrap, but continue to do this in your bamboo mat... roll the mat for about 40 rolls, then open it up flip it 90' and roll it again.  The area of your felt will shrink by up to a third.
You now need to shock your felt - crude jokes will not work - do this with cold water to rinse out the soap.
Grab your marble,  and fold the felt over it, using a length of yarn, capture the felt around the marble with a length of wool and let it rest until it dries to make the shape of your hat.
Using your cocktail sticks, cast on four stitches and knit in a garter stitch pattern on these four stitches until the scarf measures at least six inches in garter stitch and then cast off.  I used a crochet hook to make fringing on the scarf.
Now, as the felt balls have dried, using your white cotton, start on the smaller ball and stab through to the larger ball with your mattress needle and back up to the smaller head ball and fasten your cotton off. 

Free your black hat from the marble, using a  contrasting shade of embroidery thread, stab through the top of the head and leave a loop of a few inches and come back down through the hat and knot it firmly.  Glue onto the head.
Now for the face, you can embroider the eyes in black french knots to represent the coal, then orange for the carrot nose and a red line for the mouth.  If you are not happy with your embroidery skills, steal your children's felt tips and pencil them on.
On each side of the body, using the black cotton doubled up, sew the arms and hands.  Then the three buttons down the chest... or with your felt tips.
Finally, wrap your scarf around the snowman's neck to keep him warm whilst he is hanging on your tree.

Grateful thanks are due to Lyn for her technical advice, do take a look at her superb felting blog

Right... you know what is coming, it is time to pop over to Wendy's Handmade Monday Blog

And later this week, how I met Nicky Epstein at Ally Pally :)